‘All of us have been looking forward to this’: New homeless shelter offers private suites in Nanaimo

'All of us have been looking forward to this': New homeless shelter offers private suites in Nanaimo

Val Benson was feeling hopeful, and excited for the first time in years Friday, as she left a homeless shelter in Nanaimo, for a new chapter.

“A fresh start,” said Val Benson, a Nanaimo resident who has been homeless for one year.

On March 23 she will move into the newly built Samaritan Place. A shelter run by BC Housing and the Island Crisis Care Society that will provide her with her own room, with a kitchenette and bathroom as the 60-year-old tries to find a stable place to live.

“It will be my home for as long as I want it,” said Benson.

CHEK News first interviewed Benson in 2019, when she had her own apartment, and said then how unaffordable life was becoming in Nanaimo.

“It’s not easy,” said Benson in November 2019.

Not long after she says, the costs of living went up beyond her $1100 a month fixed income, and soaring rents left her out in the cold.

“That was really humbling to have to say yeah I’m done. I’m going to the shelter,” she said.

Hers is one of the many faces of homelessness in Nanaimo, estimated to be as high as 600 people.

“The need in the community is enormous, it is horrendous is what it is,” said Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog.

“Our hope is this is a start in the right direction,” said Violet Hayes, Executive Director of Island Crisis Care Society.

The new Nicol Street shelter will offer on-site healthcare, skills training and support, and 52 housing spaces for men and women over four storeys. That’s an addition of 18 units from what’s currently being offered. There will also be 12 additional emergency beds for people in crisis, and a family unit, for the increasing calls from families who are losing housing.

“The community has been crying out for help and the people in the community have seen the vulnerabilities and this is a big step in addressing those. And it will be one of many,” said MLA for Nanaimo-North Cowichan Doug Routley.

“All of us have been looking forward to this for so long and it’s finally coming true within a few days,” said Benson.
Once settled into her new home, Benson plans to take job skills training in the shelter, in hopes of landing employment. Putting her a step closer to affording her own place one day, again.

Skye RyanSkye Ryan

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